In a section of his 2014 book Men: an investigation in progress, Happily describes Laura Kipnis Larry flynt—Who died yesterday of heart failure at the age of 78 – as a “bastard pornographer”, and subsequently condemns the great movie based on his life. Says the film, written by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander and led by Milos Forman, was of course the years 1996 “The people against Larry FlyntAnd Kipnis’ argument against that is interesting.
Accusing the image of “class condescension,” she sees her story of Flynt’s apparent development as a First Amendment activist as one in which the Kentucky-born strip club owner became a magazine editor ( played by Woody harrelson) becomes enlightened by more conspicuously acceptable members of society, including his Ivy League graduate lawyer Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton). The scheme of the film, writes Kipnis, means reassuring sophisticated middle-class viewers that their own prejudices are true. “Flynt only deserves our respect,” she says, “when he begins to bow to the state: a true citizen in this film means obedience and striving for power; freedom means the freedom to conform. Flynt wins a First Amendment victory, but he also finds himself, in a sense, like Winston Smith at the end of “1984”.
This was not quite the case in real life. Forman’s film chronicled the tragedies in Flynt’s story – his 1978 filming, which left him crippled and led to a crippling addiction to pain relievers, and the death of his fourth wife Althea among them. And the movie poster, or one of them, put Harrelson’s Flynt on a cross. But while Flynt took the opportunity to hang out with top Hollywood guys while cooperating with the production of the film, and certainly took advantage of the business opportunities that the film’s publicity afforded him, he didn’t. not “reformed” in its wake. Instead, he combined porn spreading with social activism and muckraking. Which has always been part of the magazine mix anyway – for a while, the magazine’s publisher was ex-yippie pot-shaker Paul Krassner. Flynt chased the dirt on Mitt Romney and approved Hillary Clinton, who was surely grateful.
The magazine that made him famous and infamous, Hustler, was so conspicuously low-end that even admitting that one had looked at a single cover of the rag is a nervous undertaking for some. I have watched a few myself, especially when at Firstmagazine, I tried working with Evan Wright, who in the 1990s was an editor for Hustler. He did surveys and profiles of pornstars, and he was very talented. But the magazine carried such a stigma that I couldn’t convince anyone in the Los Angeles office to consider offering him an unpaid internship, which they would have been willing to accept. The magazine, the first to feature open-vulva photos of its nude female models (one of those images, in 1984, was actually taken by Dennis hopper, who placed her porn actress models in front of abstract expressionist canvases), was so anathematized that I think one of the staff I asked to meet with Evan was reluctant to shake his hand.
This is not a story told outside of school – Wright tells part of it in the introduction to his book Hella Nation, including how David Foster Wallace, in a story for which he wrote First of the 1998 Adult Video News award, named Evan “Harold Hecuba” after the only guy who ever left “Gilligan’s Island”. Evan eventually left Flynt Island and wrote various presentations of entities adjacent to Hustler for Rolling stone and other publications before writing the big Generation Kill. The fact that Flynt, or the Flynt people, hired Evan in the first place is testament to the fact that Hustler at one point had its eye on something other than explicit photography and post-modern backyard jokes delivered in crudely drawn cartoons.
The point is, Flynt’s fame derived from his First Amendment triumphs – and the legal battles didn’t end with the case portrayed in Forman’s film – and his brief stint in the mainstream didn’t oblige him, in ultimately to become mainstream. He remained the fly in the ointment, and the caterer to the tastes that we pat our backs to find unacceptable.